Ar C.J. Walsh – Consultant Architect, Fire Engineer & Technical Controller – International Expert on Sustainability Implementation + Accessibility-for-All + Fire Safety for All + Sustainable Fire Engineering
1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR)
At the level of the Individual … ‘sustainability’ urgently requires a revolution in professional and personal ethics.
However, at levels above or beyond the Individual … reference must be made to a common understanding of Sustainable Human & Social Development which has a foundation in a robust Framework of International Law. It is this approach which continues to facilitate, at Sustainable Design International, our development of the theory of ‘sustainability’ … and its more effective application to frontline design practice.
Sustainable Human and Social Development: Development which meets the responsible needs, i.e. the Human and Social Rights1, of this generation – without stealing the life and living resources from future generations, especially our children … their children … and the next five generations of children.
 As defined, in International Law, by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR).
Inspired by the Culture of the North American Indigenous Peoples … this definition also incorporates the concept of ‘7 Generation Thinking’.
Sustainable Design2: The ethical design response, in built or wrought form, to the concept of Sustainable Human and Social Development.
 Includes Spatial Planning, Architectural/Engineering/Interior/Industrial Design and e-Design, etc.
Sustainable Design Solutions must be appropriate to local geography, climate and future climate change, economy, culture, social need and language(s)/dialect(s), etc.
Our Ultimate Goal, however, must be to achieve a dynamic and harmonious balance between a Sustainable Human Environment (including the social, built, virtual and economic environments …) and a flourishing, not just a surviving, Natural Environment … with the Overall Aim of achieving Social Wellbeing for All.
Please see previous Posts on this Technical Blog … www.cjwalsh.ie … for supporting definitions to the above text.
Dr. Craig Barrett, Chair (2005-2009) of Intel Corporation’s Board, recently dropped some sharp home truths onto our frail and sensitive Irish laps … concerning national competitiveness in the Global Economic Environment. It was like a breath of fresh air ! And … how right he was !!
Today, however, I want to focus on just one of his themes …
Quality Education + Quality Research & Development + Facilitating and Fostering Creativity & Innovation in Society
Since the 1990’s … we have had to listen to endless amounts of bullshit and hot air … until we are blue in the face … about the Information Society, the Knowledge Society, the Smart Society, the Green Society [what is ‘Green’ anyway ?], etc., etc., etc … and the biggest anti-climax of them all … the European Union’s Lisbon Strategy … boring, boring, boring !!!!
When you hit the bottom of the barrel, there is only one place to look … and that’s up … with an engaged mind feverishly picturing what’s around outside ! So … for one wild moment, let’s join together some nice ideas …
Could Sustainable Cities be that essential driving force which forges a ‘Creative’ Society ???
What is the Sustainable Urban Environment (City) ? A geographical region, with open and flexible boundaries, consisting of:
An interwoven, densely constructed core (built environment) ;
A large resident population of more than 500,000 people (social environment) ;
A supporting hinterland of lands, waters and other natural resources (cultivated or ‘wrought’ landscape) ;
And together functioning as …
A complex living system (analogous to, yet different from, other living systems such as ecosystems and organisms) ; and
A synergetic community capable of providing a high level of individual welfare and social wellbeing for all of its inhabitants.
Our Ultimate Goal must be to achieve a dynamic and harmonious balance between a sustainable ‘human’ environment and a flourishing, not just a surviving, ‘natural’ environment … with the Overall Aim of achieving social wellbeing for all.
Sustainable Design Solutions must be appropriate to local geography, climate and future climate changes, economy, culture, social need and language(s)/dialect(s).
Human Environment: Anywhere there is, or has been, an intrusion by a human being in the ‘natural’ environment.
Built Environment: Anywhere there is, or has been, a man-made or wrought (worked) intervention by humans in the ‘natural’ environment, e.g. cities, towns, villages, rural settlements, services, transport systems, roads, bridges, tunnels, and cultivated lands, lakes, rivers, coasts, and seas, etc … including the ‘virtual’ environment.
Social Environment: The complex network of real and virtual human interaction – at a communal or larger group level – which operates for reasons of tradition, culture, business, pleasure, information exchange, institutional organization, legal procedure, governance, human betterment, social progress and spiritual enlightenment, etc.
The ‘social’ environment shapes, binds together, and directs the future development of, the ‘built’ (including ‘virtual’) environment.
Economic Environment: The intricate web of real and virtual human commercial activity – operating at micro and macro-economic levels – which facilitates, supports, but sometimes hampers or disrupts, human interaction in the ‘social’ environment.
Virtual Environment: A designed environment, electronically-generated from within the ‘built’ environment, which may have the appearance, form, functionality and impact – to the person perceiving and actually experiencing it – of a real, imagined and/or utopian world.
Human Health: A state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (World Health Organization)
Individual Welfare: A person’s general feeling of health, happiness and fulfilment.
Social Wellbeing: A general condition – in a community, society or culture – of health, happiness, creativity, responsible fulfilment, and sustainable development.
Sustainable Human & Social Development: Development which meets the responsible needs, i.e. the Human & Social Rights*, of this generation – without stealing the life and living resources from future generations, especially our children … and their children.
*As defined, in International Law, by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR).
Sustainable Design*: The ethical design response, in built or wrought form, to the concept of Sustainable Human and Social Development.
*Includes Spatial Planning, Architectural / Engineering / Interior / Industrial Design and e-Design, etc.
2009-03-31: ‘Sustainable’ … ‘Sustainability’ … ‘Sustainable Development’ … what’s all this about ? … and where to begin ?
Words much abused … not only in English … but definitely in French !
Words much confused … for example, in the USA … where ‘Sustainable’ and ‘Green’ can be interchanged in the same conversation without apparent rhyme or reason.Is there a difference between the two ?Some people don’t want to admit that there is … those working in the Green Building Council … or those peddling the LEED Environmental Building Rating System around the more economically advanced developing countries in the world. In India … you can find a ‘LEED’ Building, minimally adapted to local conditions and having used many imported products and systems in its construction (from you-know-where !) … sitting prettily in the neighbourhood of a slum.
In Ireland … remember the good old days, 12-18 months ago … when Economists could afford (?!?) to talk about ‘Sustainable Economic Development’ … did they really mean economic development which is compatible with sustainable development ?No, they didn’t !
Is there any level of awareness amongst our Politicians ?In the National Development Plan (2007-2013), Mr. Brian Cowan T.D., then Minister for Finance, wrote in a January 2007 Foreword to the Plan …
” This National Development Plan is about the future of those young people, their parents, and their grandparents. It establishes a blueprint for the economic and social development of this island for future generations.
In this Plan, we have a unique window of opportunity to get it right: in terms of spatial planning, support infrastructure, environmental sustainability and economic growth.”
… an unusual limitation on the use and context for the word ‘sustainability’ … which should now also be exhibited in the National Gallery of Art !?!
Some Organizations openly state that they are dealing with … or they will only be dealing with … environmental aspects of sustainable development.That is a silly waste of time … and counterproductive !
Properly Defining Sustainable Development
Let us quickly re-wind back to the end of the 20th Century …
… not as far back as the Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which met in Sweden, from 5-16th June 1972 … which, for us, was a very interesting exercise …
… but to the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), which was chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway).Mansour Khalid (Sudan) was Vice-Chair of the Commission.
The definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ appears at the beginning of Chapter 2 …
” Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.It contains within it two key concepts:
–the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given ; and
–the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”
Many readers may only be familiar with the first sentence above but, in isolation, that leaves the definition of ‘sustainable development’ so vague that it is almost meaningless. And let us be clear in our own minds … an ambiguous definition will continue to be rejected by the Developing and Least Developed Regions of the World … the concept being viewed as an unaffordable luxury and/or a means of continued domination and control by the ‘North’.
Other readers may be surprised by the second, and more important, half of the WCED/Brundtland Definition.It is clear, however, that it was always intended that there would be more than 3 Aspects of Sustainable Development … Environmental, Social and Economic … to be identified and examined. How, on this Earth, was it possible for anybody to ever bring into existence that clumsy 3-Circle Diagram ???
The 1987 WCED/Brundtland Report continues a little further on …
” The satisfaction of human needs and aspirations is the major objective of development.The essential needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries – for food, clothing, shelter, jobs – are not being met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of life.A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises.Sustainable Development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.”
Sustainable Development is the greatest challenge ahead of us in this 21st Century. It remains very much an intricate, open, dynamic and evolving concept …
… and a clear choice must be made: decide to pursue the detailed elaboration of this concept … either with the aim of practical implementation … or of intellectual masturbation.
We made that choice many years ago … back in the mid-1990’s.
Practical Implementation of Sustainable Human & Social Development
In order to make any ‘real’ progress … how can we establish, agree upon and achieve a wide international consensus on what the ‘basic needs of all’ are … and with some precision ?
Is there an internationally recognized document, already long in existence, where these ‘basic needs’ are not only specified for all people, but are protected and guaranteed ?
Reading through the 1948 UDHR, it might be helpful if a distinction is made between human rights and social rights …
Rights to which an individual person is legally entitled, e.g. the right to free elementary education (Art.26(1), UDHR), but which are only exercised in a social context with other people, and with the active support of a competent legal authority, e.g. a Nation State.
Commentary: In contrast to Human Rights, it is not protection from the State which is desired or achieved, but freedom with the State’s help.
Social Rights, as distinguished here, include and extend beyond current understandings of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
This is why, almost a generation after the 1987 WCED/Brundtland Definition ofSustainable Development …
… Sustainable Design International, has defined Sustainable Human & Social Development as follows …
Development which meets the responsible needs, i.e. the Human & Social Rights*, of this generation – without stealing the life and living resources from future generations, especially our children … and their children.
* As defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR).
Furthermore … for a sizeable group of people in all of our societies, the sole route of access to the human and social rights set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights … is the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … which became an International Legal Instrument on 3rd May 2008 … just short of 60 Years after the UDHR was adopted on 10th December 1948 !
A 3rd International Instrument to be placed at the top of this Framework of Basic & Responsible Needs, i.e. Rights … is the 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO) … adopted in Paris, on 2nd November 2001 … and which came into being shortly after the World Trade Center (9-11) Incident in New York, on 11th September 2001.
The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity raises cultural diversity to the level of the common heritage of humanity … as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature … and makes its defence an ethical imperative which is robustly linked to, and cannot be separated from, respect for the dignity of each individual person.
Paris, at the end of 2001, presented the world with a valuable opportunity …
–to reaffirm the unshakable conviction that intercultural dialogue is the best guarantee of peace ;and
–to reject outright the theory of the inevitable clash of cultures and civilizations.
So … once it is possible to construct an initial, robust framework of International Human & Social Rights Instruments … specifying the ‘basic needs of all’ … which underpins and cuts down to the core of a far more elaborate and hard-edged, 2nd Generation Definition of Sustainable Human & Social Development …
… we can roll out the ‘Sustainability’ Agenda … and begin the serious task of transforming our Human Environment (see a previous post) by gradually improving and monitoring ‘real’ Sustainability Performance … using …
–Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) … see a previous post ;